Rachel Knight: Slave, White Man’s Mistress and Mother to a Movement

Posted in History, Media Archive, Mississippi, Slavery, United States, Women on 2010-11-11 22:26Z by Steven

Rachel Knight: Slave, White Man’s Mistress and Mother to a Movement

Johnathon Odell: Discovering Our Stories

John Odell

Rachel’s Children

I can’t help but think of the Old Testament Abraham when I hear stories about Newt Knight. Both men sired children by a wife and a slave. In Newt’s case it was Serena and Rachel. With Abraham, Sara and Hagar. According to religious texts, one of these women went on to become the matriarch of God’s chosen people. Exactly which one, depends on what you happen to be reading, your Bible or your Koran. Jews and Christians claim the wife Sarah and Muslims claim the handmaiden Hagar. Several Crusades were launched trying to settle that matter.

In Jones County, there’s always been a fierce crusade of competing stories about Rachel, the white account versus the black account. Like most stories, the white interpretation gets written down and called history, while the black story gets handed down by word-of-mouth and called folklore.

Growing up as a white boy, I swore by Ethel Knight’s written-down version. According to her, Rachel was a light-skinned temptress with blue-green eyes and flowing chestnut hair. But evil as the day is long. Ethel alternately calls her a vixen, a witch, a conjure woman, a murderer and a strumpet.

Serena, Newt’s white wife, is but an innocent captive, forced a gunpoint to live in this den of iniquity, and like Newt, powerless as Rachel’s sorcery wrecked and degraded their family.

As a child of Jim Crow, this narrative satisfied my budding sensibilities about race. In my white-bubble world, there could never be any possibility of true love or affection between a white man and a black woman. Nor would any white man sire children by a black woman and then choose to live amongst his mixed-race offspring. Unless of course, the black woman had either seduced him unmercifully or mysteriously conjured him, or both. It just wasn’t possible that he actually loved her, or her children.

Imagine my surprise when I heard, as they say, “the rest of the story.” It was as shocking as sitting down in church and listening to the preacher get up and declare from the pulpit that Abraham’s birthright went to Hagar’s kid Ishmael, instead of Sarah’s son, Isaac, and it was we Christians who were the infidels!  Boy would that turn some peoples world upside down!…

Read the entire essay here.

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White Negro Communities: Too White To Be Black And Too Black To Be White

Posted in Articles, History, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Mississippi, Slavery on 2010-09-21 04:36Z by Steven

White Negro Communities: Too White To Be Black And Too Black To Be White

Johnathon Odell: Discovering Our Stories

John Odell

Yvonne Bivins had to make a choice very few Americans have forced upon them.  She could live as a black woman or a white woman.

Yvonne’s ancestry is enmeshed with the Knights of Jones County [Mississippi]. She was born into one of the so-called “White Negro” communities that sprang up after the Civil War all over through the Piney Woods. These communities grew up around Piney Woods plantations, actually no bigger than farms. There’s Six Town and Soso and Sheeplow. Her community is called Kelly Settlement and located few miles miles outside of Laurel.

Hold on to your hats and I’ll tell you how Kelly Settlement came into existence.  John Kelly, an early petitioner in Mississippi Territory, purchased 640 acres on the Leaf River. His son, Green Kelly had a liaison with a slave named Sarah. Sarah had children by her white master, by a white neighbor and by another slave on the farm. That made three sets of children, a total of eleven.

This may surprise you. It sure did me. But according to Yvonne, it was not an uncommon practice for Piney Woods slave owners, perhaps because of the intimacy created by these modest estates that demanded close-quarters living, to provide for all their offspring, regardless of color. We just don’t hear about it. Newt Knight was vilified not because he sired darker offspring, but because he refused to deny them…

Read the entire article here.

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